Federal judge halts L.A. law banning ‘for sale’ signs in parked cars

Monday, October 23, 2000

A federal judge has halted enforcement of a Los Angeles ordinance that
bans “for sale” signs in cars parked on city streets and other areas.

Edward Burkow challenged the constitutionality of the law after
receiving a $35 fine for placing two 8 1/2-by-11 inch “for sale” signs in his
parked car on Willoughby Street.

Burkow paid the fine and then unsuccessfully contested the citation
before an administrative officer and in Los Angeles Municipal Court.

The ordinance provides that “no person shall display for the purpose
of sale or rent … any bicycle or vehicle … upon any public or
private property which is not the place of business of a bicycle retailer or a
duly licensed vehicle dealer.”

The ordinance allows the signs to be displayed in moving vehicles or
upon land owned by the seller.

In his federal lawsuit, Burkow contended the regulation violated his
commercial free-speech rights. The city countered that the ordinance furthered
their goals of preserving safety by reducing distractions, promoting the flow
of traffic and protecting public streets from blight, and discouraging
trafficking in stolen vehicles.

Judge A. Howard Matz analyzed the restriction under the Supreme
Court’s test for examining restrictions on commercial speech established in the
1980 decision Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp.
v. Public Service Commission

Under the Central Hudson
test, the government can regulate truthful and nonmisleading commercial speech

The regulation serves a substantial governmental interest.

The regulation directly and materially advances the
governmental interest.

The regulation is no more extensive than necessary to further
the governmental interest.

Matz reasoned that the government had substantial interests in safety
and aesthetics. However, he ruled that the government did not show that the
ordinance directly and materially advanced its interests. In fact, the city’s
goals were undermined rather than furthered by the ordinance, Matz said.

“First only ‘For Sale’ signs are prohibited; all other signs are
permitted on parked cars, although they could be even more distracting to
passing motorists,” Matz wrote in Burkow v. City of
Los Angeles

“The Court cannot fathom how a sign in a parked car is more dangerous
than the same sign in a moving car; indeed, there is a greater likelihood that
a passing motorist will avert his eyes to read a sign posted in a moving
vehicle,” Matz wrote.

“Every Southern Californian knows that automobiles are also vehicles
of self-expression,” said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney with the American
Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, in a news release.

“We use our cars as platforms to pitch our web-sites and herbal
formulas, to argue about whales and fetuses, to joke with each other, to
promote our acting careers, to advertise our tastes in music, fast food,
politicians, deities, and sexual partners — in short, to engage in
virtually every kind of conversation that can be imagined, from the inane to
the profound,” Eliasberg said.

A call to the city attorney’s office was not returned.

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